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February 2002

Just what the doctor ordered for JEF

28 Feb 2002(Thu)

Dr. Jozef Venglos has already won the public relations battle during his short time in Japan.

Now he has a much tougher task: emulating the fine achievements of his predecessor as manager of JEF United Ichihara, Zdenko Verdenik.

Venglos, who turned 66 this month, has a wealth of experience at both club and country level.

He led the former Czechoslovakia into two World Cups, reaching the quarterfinals in Italia 90, and into two European Championships, winning the continental crown in Belgrade in 1976 with greats such as Zdenek Nehoda, Marian Masny and Antonin Panenka.

At club level, his teams in the 1990s included Aston Villa, Fenerbahce and Glasgow Celtic, and now he finds himself in the wilds of Chiba prefecture, north of Tokyo, and with one of the J.League's less fashionable teams.

But after only a few days in the job, the amiable Slovakian was holding court with a dozen media, reeling off the names and nicknames of the players at his disposal.

"I was studying the players before I came to Japan," admits Venglos.

"When I was offered the job late last year, I spoke to a few people, including the former JEF United player Ivan Hasek, who I know very well of course.

"Hasek said come; it's a good club with nice people.

"Once I had made my decision, I asked them to send over details of the squad, so I was quite familiar with the names when I started work."

JEF United (the major club sponsors are Japan East railways and Furukawa electric company) finished a highly creditable third place in the overall standings last season, behind only the J.League heavyweights Kashima Antlers and Jubilo Iwata, but then lost their Slovenian manager Verdenik to big-spending, under-achieving Nagoya Grampus Eight.

Enter Venglos, who had visited Japan as recently as last November to conduct an advanced coaching course run jointly by the Asian Football Confederation and UEFA.

"The team did very well last season, and I am the kind of coach who prefers continuity. I don't see the point of making changes just for the sake of it.

"In football the expectations are always high, and what I can promise is that I will work seriously and hard and in a professional way. I hope the team plays well, but it is difficult to predict where we can finish because it's a very even competition."

Although JEF have no current Japanese internationals, they still have two World Cup-bound players in Slovenian central defender Zeljko Milinovic and South Korean striker Choi Yong Soo.

This pair in particular will be in safe hands as the countdown continues to the big kick-off in Seoul on May 31.

"The World Cup is a big occasion for the players, the countries and the two co-hosts, and I know how players are feeling when they are coming to play league matches ahead of the World Cup," he adds.

"We have to find a good balance between training hard and playing hard for the club, and building up to the World Cup. The players must understand that their club football is good preparation for the national team."

Venglos's first test of the new J.League season will be at home to second division champions Kyoto Purple Sanga on Sunday.

And if his players are as relaxed and focused as he is, JEF can continue to establish themselves in the top half of the table after Verdenik's excellent work.

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Ono Mark II about to emerge

24 Feb 2002(Sun)

Shinji Ono was quick to make his mark in Japan.

Now he's doing the same for Rotterdam giants Feyenoord in the Dutch first division and surely destined for greater things in Europe.

But there's another Ono fast-emerging in the J.League, another gifted, ball-playing attacking midfielder.

Meet Harutaka Ono, the 23-year-old creative force of Kashiwa Reysol, who will kick off the new J.League season next weekend as one of the favorites for the championship.

Reysol's English manager, Steve Perryman, feels Ono can be a major force this season--and has backed up his belief by appointing him captain.

"He's an individual type of player with great technical ability, but he is starting to think more about the other players now," says Perryman.

"At the same time, I don't want to take anything away from his own game because he is a very special passer of the ball."

Ono hails from Saitama--Urawa Reds country on the outskirts of Tokyo--and made his J.League debut for Reysol, based in nearby Chiba prefecture, in July 1997. He has now played exactly 100 league games, scoring 16 goals.

Perryman was promoted from head coach to manager midway through last season, replacing Akira Nishino, who had built this Reysol team but taken them as far as possible.

Ono was the sole playmaker, but Perryman thought this put too much pressure on one player and made it easier for the opposition to stop the whole team functioning.

So he asked Ono to sacrifice his individual flair for the sake of the team, and Perryman feels it is paying off already.

"In the second stage last year he showed a lot of responsibility when limiting his game for the whole team," adds Perryman.

"He did not moan; he just did it, and that gave me the indication he will respond to the extra responsibility of the captaincy."

Harutaka Ono--nicknamed "Hitman Harutaka" by the Reysol fans--may be blossoming a little later than former Urawa captain Shinji Ono, but he, too, looks to have a bright future ahead of him.


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Choi tuning up for big year

21 Feb 2002(Thu)

Upstaged by a fellow South Korean national team member in a high-profile pre-season friendly at the weekend, Choi Yong Soo says he is pacing himself for the most important year of his career.

The 28-year-old striker was on the losing side Sunday as JEF United Ichihara fell 1-0 to Kashiwa Reysol in the eighth Chiba Bank Cup at Reysol's Hitachi Stadium.

The only goal of the game was scored in the 75th minute by another Korean international, Yoo Sang Chul, who pounced on a defensive error and drilled the ball into the bottom corner.

This was after Reysol had been reduced to 10 men just four minutes into the second half, when Reysol's second Korean forward, Hwang Sun Hong, had been dismissed after clashing with JEF defender Takayuki Chano.

This is a huge year for all three Koreans, who are expected to be included in Guus Hiddink's 23-strong World Cup squad for the May 31-June 30 tournament in Korea and Japan.

"Yes, it was a very exciting match because I was playing against Yoo and Hwang," said Choi.

"But I am not too concerned about losing, as there is still two weeks to go before the new season starts.

"We've only been training for three weeks, and I missed some of that because I was playing for Korea in the Gold Cup in the United States.

"Also, we had some newcomers in the team. My condition was not great, but I want to get it just right for our first game on March 3 and for what comes after. It's going to be a long year."

Choi had an impressive debut season with United last year after joining the Chiba prefecture-based club from Anyang LG Cheetahs in the K.League.

He scored 21 goals, three behind the league's leading scorer, Will (Consadole Sapporo), as United finished a highly creditable third in the overall season standings.

On Sunday he was heavily marked in the first half by Reysol's tough defender Takeshi Watanabe, but he found more space after the break to threaten the Reysol goal on a number of occasions.

He also found himself the target of abuse for a section of the Reysol fans known as the "yellow monkeys" for their raucous behavior behind the goal.

Whenever an opposing player comes within earshot, the young fans in Reysol yellow hurl themselves into the security net and direct insults at the unfortunate player in question.

Choi was clearly shocked at the aggressive nature of the Reysol fans, and pointed a finger at them as a warning in the first half.

But he has far more important things to think about in World Cup year.


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Kawaguchi finds support

17 Feb 2002(Sun)

Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi always knew that life was going to be hard in English football.

Even before Kawaguchi had transferred from Yokohama F Marinos to Portsmouth last October, Japan's national coach, Philippe Troussier, had warned his top goalkeeper to be prepared for a rough, tough introduction to the English game.

These concerns are proving to be well-founded, and Kawaguchi has found himself out in the cold in recent matches after leaking goals in the First Division and FA Cup.

But the popular, charismatic keeper has found some support within the club.

Slovenian striker Mladen Rudonja, who is taking a break from Portsmouth to play for his country in the Lunar New Year Cup here in Hong Kong, insists Kawaguchi will be back.

"He's a good guy and has just been unlucky. Defense is our biggest problem and he came at a bad time," said Rudonja.

"It's not a problem with Yoshi; he just needs time to adapt."

Rudonja insists that the experience is making Kawaguchi a tougher character.

"He is always very open about the situation; it's normal that he wants to be first-choice, and what's happened to him has made him more motivated in training.

"He is working harder then ever because he wants to be part of a sucessful team.

"But there is something really mysterious about the defense. Even when we have brought back Dave Beasant in goal, we are still conceding three or four goals a game, so this proves it's not because of Yoshi," added the Slovenian striker.

Communication between a goalkeeper and his defenders is vital to the success of any team, and Rudonja feels this could be part of the problem for Kawaguchi.

"His English is not really good at the moment, but he is getting better every day. In a few months he will be okay.

"The fans like him and he likes the city. It's only a matter of time before he is back in the team. We need him because Dave Beasant is 42 years old."


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Nakata's reputation still in tact

14 Feb 2002(Thu)

Italy-based defender Samuel Caballero is backing troubled Japanese midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata to be a success with Parma.

Caballero, who plays for Parma's Serie A rivals Udinese, believes the Parma fans will see the best of Nakata in his second season with the club.

"It's very difficult to play in Italy because the league is tough and there are so many good players," said Caballero, who masterminded Honduras' defense in a 5-1 drubbing of World Cup qualifiers Slovenia in the Lunar New Year tournament semifinals in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

"Nakata changed clubs at the end of last season but it has been difficult for him to settle because his new team has not been playing well and they have had three different coaches already this season.

"But if Parma can stay up in the first division, which I think they will now, then I am sure Nakata can show his true form next season."

Parma paid AS Roma $26 million for Nakata last summer, but he has lost his place in the starting lineup to Frenchman Johan Micoud.

He is being kept in reserve for Parma's cup competitions, and starts most Serie A games on the substitutes' bench.

Caballero, however, feels Nakata's reputation remains in tact.
"Everybody in Italy knows he is a good player. He is fast, good with the ball and scores goals," said the defender.

"There are stories in Italy that he will change clubs again, but I think he can do well with Parma."

Nakata began his Italian adventure by joining Perugia after the 1998 World Cup in France.

After one and a half highly-successful seasons in Umbria he transferred to Roma in January 2000, helping them win the championship last season.


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Japan's transfer system seems antiquated

10 Feb 2002(Sun)

So Yuji Nakazawa has finally got his move to Yokohama; the F Marinos have finally got their man; and Tokyo Verdy have around 170 million yen ($1.3 million) in the bank.

Nakazawa and the Marinos are happy, and while Verdy would have preferred to keep the talented young central defender, at least they have virtually covered the coming season's salary for their Brazilian striker Edmundo.

But the Japanese transfer system still looks antiquated, set up perfectly to be challenged in the law courts by some brave young Bosman-like figure.

Nakazawa's contract with Verdy was up on Jan. 31, yet he was still not a free agent; unlike in Europe, where a player is free to move on after completing his contract.

It seems strange that in Japan a player can fulfill his contract obligations but is then still owned by the club, who retain his registration and can demand a transfer fee.

The Japanese clubs are catching on, though, if not the J.League, as Kashima Antlers make new deals of three or four years with their leading young players, rather than the customary one-year contract, to guarantee the highest possible transfer fee if European clubs come calling.

The J.League sees it another way.
They want to protect the clubs from losing their best assets after they have taken a player on board as a youngster and looked after them for their formative years.

Nakazawa is a case in point.
The Saitama-born defender will turn 24 this month and has spent his entire career with Verdy, making his debut in March 1999.

National coach Philippe Troussier was quick to spot the potential, and promoted him to the national team, but he fell out of favor last season and was not involved on the European tour or the November friendly against Italy.

Nakazawa felt his chances of a recall would be greater if he moved from Verdy, especially to Marinos, who already had national team defender Naoki Matsuda and right-sided midfielder Yasuhiro Hato.

His salary, too, must surely be an issue.
He is set to earn around 160 million yen ($1.2 million) for the next three years, and it's highly unlikely Verdy would have been able to pay him anything like that.

He was thought to be earning around 25 million yen a year at Verdy, so he has just doubled his money and joined a team with much greater potential for success than Verdy.

The deal is now done, but the Japanese transfer system still looks to be a messy, unsatisfactory affair.

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Good timing for Takahara

7 Feb 2002(Thu)

Boca Juniors' decision to release Japanese striker Naohiro Takahara halfway through his one-year loan deal is perfect timing for the player and for the national team.

It was quite a surprise when the 22-year-old forward left Jubilo Iwata after the first stage of the J.League season last summer and decided to move to Buenos Aires.

According to Jubilo sources there had been offers from teams in Europe, but Takahara chose Argentina, which usually exports rather than imports talented players.

Boca's manager at the time, Carlos Bianchi, had consulted with Japan's French national coach Philippe Troussier before going ahead with the deal, but it quickly became evident that Takahara could not improve Boca's forward line.

But the soccer cynics who thought it was just another way to get money out of Japanese fans and TV were proved wrong when Takahara was not even included in the squad which traveled to Tokyo for the Toyota Cup against Bayern Munich in November.

Surely this would have been a wonderful opportunity for Boca to sell Takahara shirts and give the young striker a run in front of his own Tokyo fans.

But the fact that Takahara was not picked for the Toyota Cup proved that he had actually been signed for his ability with a ball rather than to move merchandise, a refreshing change.

It is a matter of concern, though, that Takahara failed to make the grade with Boca, and the country's desperate financial plight seemed to be the perfect excuse to unload him.
Takahara should not complain, though, and neither should Troussier.

At least now Takahara can train in a familiar environment, take part in the national team training camps and kick-off the J.League season on March 2 alongside the master of the penalty box, Masashi Nakayama.

These two work so well in tandem, with Takahara's running off the ball and Nakayama's goal-poaching prowess.

Takahara tried to make it overseas but, for the time being, has failed, but this could be blamed as much on bad advice to move to the Argentine league than his own lack of ability.

He remains a fine, strong and mobile forward who knows how to finish, and Japan should celebrate his return and hope he can get back to full match fitness for the World Cup.

Whether his confidence has been affected, though, remains to be seen.
And that's so crucial for a striker.


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Hiroyama disappears from radar

3 Feb 2002(Sun)

A few months ago, right-winger Nozomi Hiroyama was a candidate for a place in Japan's World Cup squad.
Now, as the World Cup countdown continues at a furious pace, Hiroyama is...well, no one really seems to know anymore.
Or, for that matter, care too much, either.

When he made his debut for Japan against Senegal on their European mini-tour in early October, he was on the books of Cerro Porteno in Paraguay, on loan from JEF United Ichihara.

At the end of the Paraguayan season, Hiroyama returned to Japan and had two lengthy meetings with the club president.
JEF wanted him to stay, to play for them again in the first division and put himself in the shop window for when national coach Philippe Troussier began to fill his World Cup trolley.
But the 24-year-old refused to sign a new deal, saying he wanted to continue his career overseas, hopefully in Europe. No one was interested.

His contract with JEF expired on January 31, but on that very day a club official said they didn't even know where he was now.
"We heard he was going to Brazil to try and play for Flamengo, but from what we've read in the Japanese newspapers he had some problems with his immigration papers," said club spokesman Yoichi Risho.
"It appears as though he's now back in Paraguay, training and looking for a club. He doesn't want to come back here because there'd be too much media pressure."

While the reasons for some Japanese players wanting to pursue their career abroad is understandable, Hiroyama has clearly lost all chance of playing for Japan at the World Cup. Lost the plot, in fact.
And it's unlikely he would be welcomed back at Ichihara, as his attitude was not exactly encouraging.

Another problem is his contract.
Even though it has run its course, under J.League and Japan Football Association regulations this does not necessarily make him a free agent.
JEF would still be looking for a transfer fee, as they still own his registration.

What a sorry situation for Hiroyama, who showed promise in Japan three years ago but is now going backwards fast.


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